By snubbing the Welsh language, the BBC laid bare its true biases, writes MEIC BIRTWISTLE
A BBC programme caused a storm of protest in Wales last Wednesday and particularly over in a field in Anglesey, where the country’s national Eisteddfod was taking place.
The Welsh Language — Help or Hindrance to the Nation? was the title of a segment on the BBC’s current affairs show Newsnight, in which Julian Ruck — a man famed for his criticisms of Welsh culture — aired his views on the worth of the country’s mother tongue.
His point was, in short, that government expenditure on the Welsh language was a waste of resources that could instead be more properly spent on the NHS.
Sadly, the participant asked to present an opposing stance was largely out of her depth on this issue. Adding insult to injury was the fact that neither of the contributors taking part in the debate could speak Welsh.
The BBC’s flagship of television journalism was clearly of the opinion that, here at least, expertise is a hindrance to an informed discussion.
The BBC, of all organisations, is charged with the responsibility of educating and informing its audience, not pandering to national chauvinism of the most blatant type.
It has a duty to represent the fragile cultures of this island’s nations and regions and at its heart should be the protection of multiculturalism.
Speaking from the Eisteddfod, Welsh Labour and Co-operative AM and Welsh Language Minister Alun Davies called the show’s journalism “shoddy” and “lazy.”
He added: “The tone was as if the Welsh language had to justify its own existence.”
Davies said the nature of the problem was deeper than just one mistake. “[The] BBC doesn’t understand what the UK is. It doesn’t know what the culture of the UK is and it doesn’t understand Wales.”
Cardiff University’s professor of Welsh politics Richard Wyn Jones found the programme insulting and said: “I would like to say that I’m surprised, but I’m not, unfortunately. We have become accustomed to this kind of attitude from the media in London.”
Following a vigorous backlash to the segment, a BBC spokesperson said: “While different perspectives were included in this item on the Welsh language, the discussion of such an important subject would have benefited from more thorough analysis and debate.”
But this did not stem the criticism. Chair of the Cardiff branch of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) Carl Morris bemoaned the segment saying that it was “yet another example of a long line of programmes which don’t reflect the conversations the people of Wales are having.
“It’s just not relevant to the debate we’re having in Wales about the language. How long do we have to put up with it? Devolving broadcasting, along with sufficient funding, is the only answer to all of this. Decisions about broadcasting in Wales should be made in Wales.”
Cymdeithas now desires to see the effective break-up of the BBC and such failings as exhibited by Newsnight add grist to its mill.
A petition has been launched calling for an independent review of how the BBC portrays the Welsh language after what was described as “the BBC making a fool of itself.”
One can imagine the following as possible topics for attention on Newsnight: The Irish Language — Help or Hindrance? Perhaps it could become a regular slot and the BBC could take a shot at Romany, Cornish, Gaelic or Yiddish languages. Perhaps the final episode might be called: Multiculturalism — Help or Hindrance?
Of course, such views would, quite rightly, not be expressed but for whatever reason Welsh is somehow fair game for such attacks.
The general level of discussion with regards the cultural make-up of Britain is felt to be reaching new depths.
Despite the supposed disappearance of the BNP and the collapse of Ukip, post-Brexit xenophobia still seems to be on the rise.
But public-sector broadcasting is in decline and the British press is now firmly ensconced in London.
The boys and girls from the Big Smoke have hardly been seen in the Eisteddfod’s press tent in decades. Ignorance is bliss they say, and they are in paradise. Prejudice will be pandered to, not challenged.
In a subsequent edition, Newsnight admitted failings in the segment and played out with a clip from the Eisteddfod showing pop group Yr Eira playing to a packed audience. A small but welcome recompense, however, the BBC still has a long way to go.
The Morning Star — and before that the Daily Worker — has long valued and respected cultural diversity, going back to the days of Idris Cox who reported on the Eisteddfod in a sensitive and informed manner.
Walking by the glorious Menai Straits last week, I bumped into a Orthodox Jewish family from Manchester. I asked if it was Yiddish that they were speaking and it was. It was the first time that I had heard the language in the flesh, as it were.
My heart warmed at the sound of a minority tongue spoken by laughing children — a language that had almost been wiped off the face of the planet by racism.